Greensboro’s Mighty Fairlanes

Built For Comfort

Since 1985, Mark “BuddyRo” Harrison’s vehicle of choice has been a Fairlane. But Harrison’s version didn’t have a cool stainless steel racing stripe down the side or a tinted transparent plastic roof like the ’55 Crown Vic Skyliner. The Greensboro-based guitarist didn’t opt for the drag racers’ ’64 427-cubic-inch Thunderbolt model either. His machine was more middle-of-the-road, built for cruising with top 40 tunes blowin’ in the breeze. His fellow drivers for that initial ’85 custom model were Harrison on guitar, Gary Collins on drums, Chris Carroll on bass and Kevin Wilson on keyboards.

The Fairlanes retooled in 1990, with Chip “Memphis” Click on drums and Ken Graham on bass. The engine’s sound changed as well, with covers becoming fewer and the vehicle now tuned up with some of Harrison’s originals. The current Fairlanes driver’s roster has Colby Jack replacing Graham on bass and the addition of Glenn Bickell on keys and vocals.

Some have tried to slap a blues label on his machine, but Harrison says it won’t stick. “It’s all the blues to me,” he says. “Even if I’m playing a Johnny Cash tune,” he explains. “I’m saying it from just a pure guitar standpoint. It’s all the same progressions, it’s just the spirit of the song and the vibe that you emit on it.”

Their latest, “The Longer I Live,” is a gumbo of ingredients  — rockabilly, outlaw country and rock. The record is dedicated to their former bassist Carroll, who passed away in August. “It’s hard losing so many of ’em, Harrison  says. “The longer I live,” he growls on the title cut, over a twangy rockabilly framework, “the more I think about dyin’./ So many gone/ seems like I never quit cryin’,” he laments, before taking on politicians in another song.

“Hypocrite,” sounds a bit like Bob Seger backed by the Allman brothers. “What I had in mind was a jam band feel. Once I got the melody going I said ‘OK, I see some hippies in tie-dyes boppin’ around,’” Harrison says, laughing. 

The record is all originals, but the band still does some obscure covers live. Tab Benoit’s  “Make Your Mind Up,” and Lightning  Hopkins’ “Got Love,” for instance. And then there’s a little tune The Band used to perform: “Ophelia,” Levon Helm’s poignant centerpiece in later years after he’d regained his voice following surgery for throat cancer. For Fairlanes fans it’s a favorite. “People are like, you gotta play it,” Harrison says.

Harrison is a meticulous mechanic, keeping the engine fine-tuned. Overall, he’s very pleased with the high performance his vehicle delivers. “The Fairlanes are very consistent, some nights better than others, but I never, not anymore, got to the place of sayin’, ‘Well, we sucked,’” Harrison says wryly. “Been many years since I’ve said that.”

The Fairlanes are an all-terrain vehicle, versatile enough for any challenges.“We do a big variety of gigs, old country club dinner type gigs where you’re playin’ really soft — fake jazz, is what I call it,” Harrison says. “Next night might be a hippie party, where it’s just wide-open. That’s fun ’cause it keeps the band on their toes.”

Harrison believes the secret to keeping his vehicle humming all these years  is selling the band on his songs. “If they ain’t on board, it ain’t gonna happen. They’ll move on. So they bought into these tunes on the record, and they enjoy playing ’em.” — Grant Britt

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